Icy Rocket

22 01 2009

Here’s a place you never thought you’d see ice:  hanging off the nozzle of a lit rocket engine!

Click for movie!

Click for movie!

From Science@NASA editor, Dr. Tony Phillips…

NASA is using the Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine (“CECE” for short) to develop technologies for a next-generation lunar lander. CECE is fueled by a mixture of -297 F liquid oxygen and -423 F liquid hydrogen. The engine components are super-cooled to similar low temperatures–and that’s where the icicles come from. As CECE burns its frigid fuels, hot steam and other gases are propelled out the nozzle. The steam is cooled by the cold nozzle, condensing and eventually freezing to form icicles around the rim.

The movie is really neat with the icicles forming in real-time.

Also, I’ve updated the earlier post about the new Lunar Rover participating in the Inauguration Parade with video from the event.  There’s a moment when a fully-suited astronaut steps off the rover and salutes the President that just fills me with emotion.  It’s like an overwhelming feeling of hope.


Important Things

21 01 2009

Right now my favorite comedian is Demetri Martin.  Hands down.  He’s got a new show coming out on Comedy Central on Wednesday, February 11 called “Important Things with Demetri Martin”.

I love cerebral comedy.  The kind you really have to think about.  Sight gags just aren’t my thing.  Sure, I could never get enough of Rodney Dangerfield’s joke after joke after joke, but he wasn’t into sight gags.  And yeah, I liked it when Robin Williams used to do sight gags, but he’s *Robin Williams*!  The comedians I’m attracted to are Stephen Wright, George Carlin, and the great Norm MacDonald.  (Okay, they each laugh during their routine sometimes, but their sense of humor is dry and *that’s* what I like!)  I guess I just like a comedian who doesn’t laugh at his own jokes.  Which is why I can’t get enough Demetri Martin.

I really hope this series is as great as his appearances on The Daily Show and his stand-up performances.  Too often, a comedian just can’t fill 30 minutes of space with quality material every week without a horde of writers.

I was going to fill this post with tons of links — I certainly have an easy opportunity with all the name dropping — but I finally just decided to put this one up and forget it.  Maybe I’ll go back and fill in some links later.  Or maybe you should get on the google.

Lunar Rover’s Parade

17 01 2009

[Now that this has happened, I can link to video from the event.  It’s breathtaking!]

Just released from NASA, their new Lunar Rover will be included in the inaugural parade.  And not just participating, it’ll be bringing up the rear!


From a NASA press release:

HOUSTON–In the months since it was unveiled, NASA’s latest moon rover concept has covered a lot of ground. Up simulated Martian hills, down simulated lunar craters. Through real dust storms and across lava flows.

But on Jan. 20, it’ll attempt something totally new: the streets of Washington D.C., crowded with the hundreds of thousands of people expected to be in town for President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.

“We thought about parades before, but we never thought to aim as high as the inaugural parade,” said Rob Ambrose, the human robotics systems project lead for NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program. “We’re very honored. We are also very excited to show the public the new machines that NASA is developing for exploration.”

The team of Johnson Space Center engineers and scientists behind the concept have said from the beginning that they wanted the vehicle to be “America’s rover” – they wanted the LER, as it’s called for short, to be a symbol of the work that NASA’s doing as the agency prepares to return to the moon.

And everyone seems to agree that the LER is eye catching. Twelve wheels on six steering columns, each of which can raise or lower to go over obstacles or give the crew inside a closer look at interesting features on the lunar surface. And each of which can turn a full 360 degrees, allowing the rover to go forward, backward, sideways, in a circle or anything in between.

But that’s just the beginning. The cockpit holds everything two people would need to head off on a 14-day expedition, miles away from a moon base: driver’s seats that fold into beds, water for drinking and rehydrating food, a toilet and plenty of curtains to provide privacy. Plus, attached to a suitport on the back – where the crew can get in and out without bringing the lunar dust back in with them – are two spacesuits, ready for a moonwalk at almost a moment’s notice.

That innovation alone could cut the preparation time for spacewalks from hours to minutes. And other innovations could help a little closer to home. The development of the rover led to new technologies in batteries, fuel cells, advanced regenerative brakes and tires. These are all the same technologies that are required for electric vehicles here on Earth – the cars, tractors and heavy equipment that the United States needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.

Sounds like an incredible machine!  Redirecting NASA’s mission to return to the moon was one thing President Bush did that was really good.  Now if the new Congress will just make sure to give them proper funding in this worsening economy.

I really hope at least one of the news agencies televising the parade shows it all the way to the end!

You can check out the NASA webpage about the rover here.

Sagan’s Parade (or, a small peek into my past)

17 01 2009

Sagan reached celebratory status after creating Cosmos, which ran on PBS in 1980.  He was, in many ways, a true hero for the passion of science and skeptical thinking.  He was also a hero to me.

What does it mean to call someone a hero?  It has to mean more than just ‘respect’ or ‘admiration’.  A hero gives you something to aspire to.  Carl Sagan touched my life for the first time when I was 9, watching the first episode of Cosmos with my father.  It sounds cliche, but I really remember that as though it was yesterday.

I didn’t know at the time how much of an impact he had made on me.  Almost subconsciously I started reading and collecting little things about him.  His parody in Bloom County, his comments in books others wrote…

And even this!


Clicking on that image will embiggen it enough to see all the finger creases.

And check out that date!


That’s right!  I was so enamored with him that I got this out of the newspaper when I was in high school back in 1989, and have kept it in my possession ever since!  Jealous, aren’t ya?  Bet you wish you could have a rare copy of a throw-away article he published in a circular 20 years ago!  Well it’s mine!

…And yeah, it means something to me.  I look at this old issue of Parade and wonder if I could ever have that kind of impact on someone.  I looked up to him at an age when most kids would hang pictures of sports figures or rock stars on their walls.   I had a newspaper clipping of Carl Sagan.  (Of course, I also had images of Spielberg and Malcolm X, but that’s a different post!)  What kind of man could influence a kid to *want* to be a scientist?  That’s just not cool.

The fact that I still have this says something more about me than it does him.  Why would I keep this for all these years?  I look at my bookshelf in my office and see the things that mean something to me:  my Obi-Wan action figure from the early 80s, my Interplanet Janet launcher (it’s cool!), my lead crystal Zeiss sundial I won at my first SEPA, my Bone collectible.  But behind those things are a bunch of books (it is a bookshelf, y’know!).  Filled with material I’ve collected through the years, it’s not extensive or even moderate in size, which makes each title a little more telling about me personally.  Lots of Asimov, Hawking, Einstein, and Sagan.  Guess I’ve always been a nerd at the core.

Tell ya what, I liked putting this little item of my past up for psychoanalysis by the masses.  I bet it won’t be too long and I’ll put up some more things.  Let me look through my Sagan items and see what else I have…

Fire and Ice

12 01 2009

Okay, maybe not fire, but something just as cool…


This is a massive discharge of electricity from the top of a cumulonimbus cloud.  Notice the blue color?  That’s indicative of low humidity in the area.  Lower humidity = lower voltage required for a discharge = greater distance lighting can travel.  You can see how this makes for an potentially dangerous situation.  And also potentially beautiful.

There’s a whole slew of pictures like this with extensive science-y type information here.

But even more impressive than that is this picture taken in Switzerland after a rain storm in sub-zero temperatures.


Simply amazing.  I’d love to know what kind of tree that is.  If a storm like that happened in the southern U.S., it would flatten every tree in the region.

I found this on the same website as above, lifeinthefastlane.ca.  It’s a really cool site and you should peruse it for a while.

Davin’s Perfect Blog

8 01 2009

So I just discovered my good friend, Davin Flateau, has an awesome blog.  You should go there.

Davin is the guy who used to run Exploration Place up in Wichita, KS.  He left for several reasons — none of them any good.  Except for the fact that he’s now fulfilling a dream to work on the gammaknife’s edge of astronomy and might possibly one day make a paradigm-shifting discovery!  But other than that, I don’t know what got into him.

Right now he’s running a caption contest for this amazing little device:


Davin’s a nice guy, just a little odd. :) I don’t know how he stands on Futurama, but he at least likes The Venture Bros., so we’ll give him the benefit of a doubt for now.  I’ll be over there later to see what caption you’ve added…

Darwin Awards Are Out!

6 01 2009

The Darwin Awards have been announced for 2008 and the winner is…

The Balloon Priest!

However, I would’ve voted for this guy!